At the American Sociological Association meeting in San Francisco last month, I attended two panels that were oriented in very different directions conceptually and methodologically but that together generated some interesting questions. The first panel was a critique and defense of interviewing as a method. The impetus for the panel was Shamus Khan’s recent article, which argued that interviews, as opposed to ethnography, were unsuited to uncovering the causes or motives of action. As Howard Becker remarked in his introductory comments, the general thrust of the critique was not new. Both Alford Young and Alison Pugh were invited to respond to Khan and identified important ways that interviews could add to sociological understanding even if they could not replace other methods. Even if interviews cannot uncover causal forces, they at least access something telling about social life. Continue reading
Getting started with this blog has been much harder than I needed it to be. My goals with this site are to commit words to the page and develop a better habit of writing. In doing so, I hope to get ideas down, to practice building arguments, to refine my writing style, and to discover some sort of voice. And I wanted to do all this with at least some sense of publicness, a potential, if not actual, audience to keep in mind and be responsible to. At the same time, I admired academic bloggers who created a space to write more casually and with seemingly less pressure.
As a graduate student in sociology trying to develop a coherent body of ideas and carve out an intellectual space before I subject myself to the academic job market, starting a blog with these goals in mind was not only good practice but also relatively urgent. Moreover, these seem to be pretty standard best practices for many academic bloggers over the longer term; and if I actually find an audience, then all the better. So why was it so hard to get to this point?
To launch this blog, I want to focus on one particular hangup: I simply could not think of a name for this blog until now. I could not use my own name because it was unavailable, which meant that I needed something clever. Coming up with these types of monikers has never been easy for me and I could not settle on a name for this blog. For whatever reason, the other day I returned to Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.” Several months ago, I thought quite a bit about this poem in relation to the theoretical literature on narrative I had picked up. In particular, I had recently read Carolyn Steedman’s incredible book Landscape for a Good Woman, in which she draws on feminism, psychoanalysis, class analysis, and narrative to understand how her mother (and later herself) located herself within the shifting and complex British class structure pre- and post-WWII. One of Steedman’s insights was that her mother, like many working class people, situate themselves within the stories of the middle and upper classes. Even though these stories do not belong to them, they have the desire for a story. Moreover, they do not always fit within the stories that are made for them. Working class men and women have never conformed to the over-determined roles of working class life. Rich’s poem captures this undulating relationship to stories or, in this case, myths. Myths and their engagement suggest what type of people are doing the engaging (whose stories they are), what objects are within this engagement, where power and agency lie, and how people relate to one another and the myths that do not contain them. And “by cowardice or courage” the excluded confront the thing and the self in history. Rich submerges the reader in the complexities of interpretation: of objects and subjects, selves and others. She bathes these forms in one another and allows the lines that separate to be crossed through the act of exploration. By doing so, it becomes even more striking that the narratives some carry are so exclusionary.
I was reading Steedman and Rich because my dissertation explores these relationships between narratives, people, and things. By cowardice or courage, the women I have talked with and listened to engage these relationships. At the same time, I want to approach this blog in the same spirit of exploration and critical reflection. I want to dive into the wreck of the contemporary moment and the wreck we face. This is how I decided on this line of Rich’s poem as the title of this blog. It’s nice to finally be blogging.